Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time • Year A

Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Readings
1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a
Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Rom 9:1-5
Mt 14:22-33

Why doesn’t Jesus stop the storm first?

The boat with his disciples is battered by winds and threatened by waves. There is no Coast Guard to come to their rescue, no radio to call for help, no flares to signal their distress. These men are not wearing life jackets. Many of the men in the boat are fishermen, who have seen the bodies of men drowned in just such storms. If the boat goes down, they will die.

The Lord comes to his followers, walking across the furious lake, through the dreadful swells and thunderous chaos. The disciples are pale with fear. Jesus calls to Peter: “Come to me now, walk out into the storm and come to me.”

Why doesn’t Jesus stop the storm first?

Why not calm the waves and calm the hearts of his followers, and then call to Peter? It would hardly be any less of a test of Peter’s faith. Have you ever stepped from the safety of a boat onto the dark surface of a deep sea in the blackest part of a moonless night?

When Peter’s faith falters, Jesus still does not calm the waves. He reaches out his hand to Peter, lifts him to safety, and only then deals with the storm: “After they got into the boat, the wind died down.”

The order of things is all wrong. Wouldn’t it be better to first calm the sea, then reassure his disciples, and then ask Peter to show his faith?

I don’t know. Jesus doesn’t tell us why there is evil. Jesus never explains why we live in a world where children die of cancer, where men crash planes into office buildings, where an earthquake spares one town but destroys another. If you read the Gospels straight through, from the first line of Mark to the last line of John, you will never come across these words on the lips of the Lord: “The reason bad things happen to good people is because…”

Neither does Jesus tell us why he doesn’t stop every storm.

What Jesus does tell us is that he is present in the storms. Christ is not absent in tragedy and in grief. Our bodies do not grow weak, our hearts are not broken, our children do not make terrible mistakes, because Christ has deserted us. Christ stands by us in those storms, he calls to us over the winds, he reaches out to us in our misery, sorrow, and shame. He may not stop the storm, but he does not leave our side.

Even more, he promises that the storms have no ultimate power. All the men Jesus saved that night eventually died, most of them brutally. Christ saves them from this storm, but not from every storm. But in Christ they had eternal life. Death had its hour for them, as it had for Christ and as it will have for us all, but that hour will open out onto an eternity of joy. Sickness will not just be healed, but banished. Violence will not just be restrained, but destroyed. Loss and sorrow and anguish will be driven out forever.

What do we search for in this life? Unfailing health, unending beauty, success and applause, the pleasures of ceaseless youth, the security of wealth? And what do we spend in their pursuit? Hours at the gym, a small fortune on cosmetics, the pain of the surgeon’s blade, the sacrifice of family and virtue? This day, Christ says to us: “The bad things of this world do not last. The good things of this world do not last. But you can have me, always, without fail. You cannot have perfection, but you can have my faithfulness. You cannot live without pain, but you can have my mercy. You cannot escape every storm, but you can always have me by your side, a rock that will not crack, a beacon that never dims, a friend who does not vanish with the fair weather.” This day, Christ says, “Come. Come to me now. Do not wait for the calm sea and the cloudless day. My salvation is near at hand. The storm may rage, but I will raise you up.”

And this day Christ reminds us that one of the greatest gifts we can give to each other is loyalty: the commitment of family, the faithfulness of spouses, the devotion of friends. We imitate God Himself when the storms blow and the waves crash and we remain a rock beside a husband or wife, a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a neighbor or colleague or friend. When people are weighed down, breaking, and broken, and we stay by their side…that is what it means to follow Jesus Christ.